The Cruelty of Writing Part 1: Turning Tables

Date posted on May 7, 2008
Up until the morning of April 28, Monday last week, I wasn’t sure if my plan to go overseas was pushing through. I was initially intending to leave earlier, but all the effort I put in informing Star about my schedule so we could accommodate both my personal plans and the production timetable for the John-Lloyd-Sarah project was rendered futile (and quite expected, really).Since September of last year when I submitted the third draft of this script and its development eventually put on hold, I’ve been asking for the management’s feedback so I could start working on the new draft. When the project was yet again greenlighted in March, I already had plans to leave for Europe. I told them about that, trying my best not to sigh in frustration and ask why they’re only making me work on the revisions now, six months after I submitted the last draft. When we had our feedback meeting, it was almost a little over a full month from April 28. I was hoping to write more than one draft so no more significant revisions would be required. Despite the little time we had left, all sorts of delays came to play, including more than 2 weeks of our time wasted on developing an entirely new story which was ultimately chucked for my old one. In the end, I was given only two weeks to write one new draft.

Naturally, the writing got in the way of my preparations for my trip. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part for my bosses and colleagues to take that into consideration. I had to juggle writing and running last-minute errands like shopping for supplies, settling my personal accounts like my home cable, mobile phone, and internet.

I finally submitted the fourth draft of that script on Saturday, April 26. (One good thing that came out of all the setbacks was it allowed me to attend my good friend Duke’s wedding in Batulao/Tagaytay.)

People in the office wanted to meet with me the following Tuesday, April 29, so I can personally hear from them the management’s feedback on that fourth draft. I told them I’d try my best to make it, but it was unlikely that I’d make it.

By Monday evening, I told them that it was really not possible for me to go to Star anymore. They asked why, and I texted that it was because I was scheduled to fly out of Manila then. The following day, Tuesday, I managed to have my flight moved to Wednesday morning instead. I told Star about this, but also said that despite the change in schedule, I still won’t be able to meet with them since I’ll be needing the free time to fix things for my departure. They called me that same day to ask if I could instead write my “vision” and “theme” for the script so they could use it for the Creative Meeting on Friday. I explained it to them over the phone, but they still insisted that I write “in my own words” what my vision and theme was.

Now let me just say that I don’t really know what else I have to do to spell out what my vision for the story is. I don’t discount that I may not be successful in making the script reflect our intentions, but that’s a different matter all together. But to ask me for my ‘vision’ and ‘theme’? How insulting is that!? (And as one friend of mine pointed out, how lazy!) The script has been submitted for their perusal. At the very first page of this new draft, I even intro’d the script with a statement of its theme, a blurb of sorts, stating what I intended to be the movie’s theme. And need I mention that we’ve been meeting and discussing this project since last year? Haven’t we discussed the characters, the story, the theme, and the intentions in so many words? Then again, I guess insulting the writer is something they don’t really care about.

The worst part about this whole incident is I wasn’t able to submit this “vision-slash-theme” by Friday. I landed on Heathrow Wednesday evening, and the following day, I already attended classes. I hadn’t settled in properly. I didn’t have my own phone line yet, so I only relied on my roaming. I received a call from Star but I was commuting at that time and didn’t realized it was them until I got home. Besides, I was already refraining from using my roaming cause I’m close to exceeding my phone account’s credit limit. If I got my account frozen, I’d be helpless out here. I eventually got my phone’s WAP working and checked my email from there. I saw an email from Star asking how I was and reminding me of the “vision” I owed them. It was already past the deadline by then, so all I was able to do was apologize and explain why I couldn’t submit it on time.

I’ve been feeling guilty about my failure to submit that “vision” and “theme.” Yet as if self-flagellation wasn’t enough, I got this email from Star saying they understand my situation, but at the same time said that my failure to submit my “vision” had “a lot of repercussions on the project timetable.” They reminded me that we still needed to grind by May 8. Because of that, I’d have to settle once and for all whether I can still commit to doing the revisions from where I am now and correspond via email, or if I’d consent to bringing in a new writer to the project. They even gave an ultimatum: If they did not hear from me by Sunday, 11PM Manila, they’d be forced to bring in a new writer. All those were boldfaced, italicized and underlined – now if that wasn’t a threat, I don’t know what is.

I only got to read that email Sunday, 9PM UK time. That was 4AM, Manila time.

I swear, this job of writing for movies (for Star? I don’t really know how much I can generalize) can be really cruel.

That evening before I left, I already brought up the issue of bringing a new writer. I volunteered to discuss it with them since their calls were usually only about the deadlines. Since I anticipated that my hectic schedule, the distance, time difference, and practical difficulty of my situation could possibly compromise my commitments to the project, I told them that even if I don’t want to, I know that it would be more convenient for the project to bring in a new writer.

Of course, I expressed my apprehension despite indirectly agreeing to that recourse. After all, this material, this story, this script, has been mine entirely. I researched it, pitched, developed, wrote the script, reworked the story, re-researched, rewrote the script, got it approved… all by myself. I got little to no help doing all that – of couse, by this, I don’t mean to discount the help from our director, the CA and my boss – I say this in the context of not having any co-writer. But yeah, no help in all four drafts of the script that got us to this stage when the management has finally committed to making the movie. And again, I stress that even when the project was put on hold in September last year, I insisted on getting the feedback from the management so I could start revising it, or at least mull over how I’d go about doing that. I think it’s just natural and justified that I expect and hope to retain ownership after all that.

However, I’m now left with no choice but to relinquish the fruit of my labor. Not only that. Despite trying my best to be worth my salt writing for this and all the other movie projects I’ve been involved with, it now seems like it’s my own fault!

And here I thought my effort in avoiding this situation would prevent the tables from getting turned on me. I thought wrong. What makes it more depressing is this would’ve been a milestone for me as it was to be my first solo credit. Still, I’ve been easing myself into foregoing that career high point for later. Especially since recently, my boss unabashedly declared sans apology that writers are usually the first casualties in binds like this. I suppose it was foolish to expect my concern to take precedence over other concerns in the project. Plus I do admit to having my share of deficiencies. But to be made to feel like I screwed myself over is just going too far. After all the diligence and dedication I invested in my work and this project in particular, this is what I get?

How’s that for cruelty.